I have been thinking about reading lately. At the end of last month, Goodreads kindly wrapped up all the books I read in 2016 (I’m fairly diligent about recording them) and told me I’d read a whopping 15 books during the year. That includes the five novels I read out loud to Tristan and Simon (Ready Player One, Neverwhere, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Wintersmith, and The Graveyard Book) but not the dozen or so Puppy Palace books I read to Lucas.
It seems like a pretty measly stack for a girl who loves to read. In my defense, a good portion of the year was dedicated to American Gods, Neil Gaiman’s not-insubstantial 635-page epic. And yes, it was the year that I fell totally and utterly in love with Neil Gaiman. All that to say, I’ve decided that I need to spend more time reading actual books and not just random Internet articles from Apartment Therapy and Medium and Slate to feed my soul.
Yesterday on the CBC Radio program The Current, they had a piece on life-altering books. Author Will Schwalbe discussed 26 books that changed his life, and I loved that his list is eclectic and wide-ranging and does not take itself too seriously. It got me to thinking about books that have changed my life. I’m not sure I have the attention span for 26, but here are five that have been meaningful to me.
1. Generation X by Douglas Coupland
In the interview, Schwalbe talks about books that find you when you need them. This is 100% what this book was for me. I was 23 years old and stuck in a rut dug of a series of catastrophically bad choices. Reading Generation X tweaked something in my soul that made me ask, “This is it? For the rest of my life?” and then, after I’d chewed that concept over for a while, “Hell, no!” It changed literally everything for me: within the year, I was divorced, on my own, and heading down a new path that led me to where I am today. I think this is the next book I’ll read out loud to the boys, although I’ve been afraid to revisit it lest it somehow tarnish my reverence for it.
2. Firestarter by Stephen King
I was probably nine, maybe 10 years old when I picked up my mom’s copy of Firestarter off the sofa where she had been reading it and started flipping through it. I think I was first engaged by the fact that Charlie, the protagonist, was a girl of about my age. It’s not even in the top 10 of my favourite Stephen King books, but it was the first, and it gave me a taste for speculative fiction that persists to this day.
3. Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You by Alice Munro
After reading an Alice Munro short story in an anthology for high school English, I sought out more of her work. This one has stayed with me, though I’ve read so many of her books over the years. It was nothing short of shocking to me to find an oeuvre of work about growing up female in small-town Ontario when I WAS growing up female in a small-town Ontario. But I came to love her work for so much more than just the familiar descriptions of the verdant fields and sleepy towns surrounding London and beyond. Her characters are quirky and thoughtful, leading ordinary lives that occasionally break open to reveal the extraordinariness woven into the fabric of all of us, just below the surface. It was through Alice Munro that I learned to be open to and observe and love the beauty in minutaie.
4. Harry Potter (writ large) by J.K. Rowling
Because Harry Potter. I can’t think of any book I’ve re-read as many times as I’ve read the various books in the Harry Potter series. I started reading them when I was pregnant with Tristan, and the books feel like the literary backdrop to the last 15 years of my life, woven into everything about who I am and what I’ve been doing with my life for the last decade and a half.
5. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Another gateway book for me. When I read this funny, quirky, magical book in 2015, I wondered how I could have possibly missed reading such a delightful book for so long. Although I’d read one Gaiman book before, it sealed my love for him and introduced me to the delightful universe that is Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. Considering nine of the 15 books I read in 2016 were authored by either Gaiman or Pratchett, the significance of Good Omens on my reading habits cannot be understated. For more than 30 years, if you asked me my favourite author, I’d quote my holy trinity of Stephen King, Douglas Coupland and Alice Munro. Where there were three, now there are five.
I tried very hard to not think too deeply about this list, and to come up with my top-of-mind impressions of books that have been meaningful to me for one reason or another. But thinking about them has only redoubled my desire to feed the beast with MOAR BOOKS for 2017.
So, what are your top-of-mind top five books that changed your life?